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Backpacking 101- things you need to know before your first backpacking trip

Many people yearn for backpacking adventures but have no clue where to start or how to go about it. Whether you’re planning to backpack across a country (for example in Southeast Asia) or backpack in the outdoors, it can also be a challenging experience if you’re a beginner who doesn’t know a lot about backpacking. Whatever your reasons are for backpacking, one thing is for sure; it helps you to be open-minded. It broadens your horizons and makes you appreciate life more. Additionally, nothing beats the feeling and the adrenaline rush you get from just knowing that your backpack is your survival kit while discovering unknown lands. However, one can’t negate the fact that things could go wrong and you should know a few basic things before you start your adventure. This ultimate backpacking 101 will help you with that!

Backpacking 101: Plan ahead of time

backpacking travel plan

For a great experience in any adventure, early planning is crucial. As you may already know, backpacking 101 involves a lot of logistics that may not allow an impromptu way of doing things. In other words, you cannot wake up one morning and just decide that you want to go backpacking. Well, it’s possible, but then again, so many things can go wrong. You need to plan on what to bring to your adventure, sort out your finances, prepare a budget, and plan for both travel and accommodation if any is needed. It’s also important to notify one or two friends or family members about your expedition and how long you’re going to be away. It can sometimes be an overwhelming task but if you want to have a good life-long memory from your backpacking experience, you need to plan ahead of time.

Pack light

nepal backpack

There are over a million things to do on a backpacking expedition. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to carry a million items for each activity. One thing to note is that to get to some destinations, you might need to travel by air, train, or long-distance buses. Your backpack needs to be small enough to fit into luggage compartments in whatever transportation option you choose. According to most backpacking guides, one of the secrets behind achieving the best backpacker experience is packing light. This means carrying only the essential items with you to reduce your overall weight.

The other notable advantage of packing minimalistic is that it helps you to save on baggage fees in case you’ll need to travel by air at some point. Fortunately, with some airports and travel options, you have the convenience of adding up on your itinerary before embarking on your journey. To sum it up, you really don’t need heavy luggage weighing you down, especially if your trip will only last a couple of weeks.

Do your homework

Before embarking on a backpacking adventure, whether alone or with friends, it’s also imperative to conduct extensive research on your destination. For those who may choose to travel overseas, you may want to consider conducting research on your destination’s currency strength, political stability, and culture, as well as the various applicable wildlife and conservation laws in the country or state.

Additionally, you may also want to do your homework beforehand on the best travel packages from different airlines as well as the best accommodation options available at your destination. Whatever you have to do, you’ll want to ensure that your accommodation is close enough to the places you plan to visit so that you can save some money on transportation.

Backpacking 101: Choose an Easy Backpacking Destination

backpacking destination

If it’s your first backpacking trip, you should choose a destination that’s relatively easy to explore as a backpacker. Here are some useful tips to help you decide where to go when backpacking for the first time.

Ask someone who has more experience with backpacking. Or if you don’t know anyone, you can always read about the experiences of travel bloggers. This should make your decision a lot easier.

Pick a well-traveled trail. If you’re backpacking for the first time, I’d recommend visiting a country that’s visited by a lot of tourists. This will be easier because people there are adjusted to tourists, the tourist infrastructure is better, and it will be easier for you to adjust to the new environment.

Check the weather. You probably have a fixed date of when you plan to travel. When you’re trying to choose between a few destinations, comparing the weather in that part of the world during the season you plan to visit can be one of the most helpful factors in helping you make a decision.

Ease of access. Make a list of the countries you plan to visit and see how many of them have visa-free access for your country’s citizens. If none, see which ones have a visa on arrival.

Compare the costs. Comparing the average living costs in a country/city will help you see which ones of the desired destinations actually fit your budget.

Get vaccinated

vaccine travel

Most people don’t see the need to be vaccinated while heading out on a backpacking adventure. Based on your destination of choice, your doctor will advise you on the most appropriate vaccine shots depending on the climatic conditions, temperature, and inherent factors such as your overall health condition and medical history. Before you go, vaccinations must be timely. Most physicians recommend receiving vaccinations 4-6 weeks before the D-day for backpacking. This gives your body enough time to adapt to the vaccines and for them to start working. Some shots you’re most likely going to need before heading out include yellow fever vaccinations, rabies, hepatitis A and B vaccines, and meningococcal vaccine, among other common travel vaccinations that are internationally recognized. Vaccinations help to prevent contracting diseases on foreign land while also helping prevent the spread of diseases from one country to the other.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like our long term travel packing list.

Get essential backpacking gear and clothing

backpacking gear

Even though it’s important to pack light, that doesn’t mean you should go for your trip unprepared. You should know what you’re planning to do and packing accordingly. If you’re planning to go camping, bring suitable camping gear. If you’re planning to backpack in countries like Thailand, where you’ll spend most of your time on the beach, you might not need any camping gear but you’ll need to pack some other important things for your trip.

Additionally, you might be tempted to buy the cheapest gear/clothes possible but this is one thing you should avoid, especially if you’re planning to camp in the open.  I made this travel mistake in the past and this is one thing you’ll regret if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a broken backpack that you have to carry in your hands for miles or if you almost freeze to death sleeping in that cheap sleeping bag you got for your camping trip!

Secure Your Possessions

No one wants to imagine that they can lose their prized possessions while backpacking and you can never go wrong with playing safe. You’ve all heard of stories where campers were invaded by plundering raccoons that tore through their travel documents and other valuable stuff, leaving them stranded or backpackers that fell victims to pickpockets or other tourist scams.

To avoid this from happening to you, it’s important to have your important travel documents and valuables stashed in an indestructible secret place and away from prying eyes. Other options include having a backup of your important documents, investing in a travel insurance policy, and purchasing protective gear (ex. Theft-free backpack, etc.).

Eat local street food

street food thailand

Take a look at your own country. Compare that Indian restaurant in your home town to some of the local restaurants. Now, compare it with Indian restaurants in India. You’ll notice that the food served in restaurants in India is better and cheaper than the one served in your hometown’s restaurant (most of the time). Heck, you’ll probably find a lot of local restaurants that are less pricey than that Indian restaurant. There’s a good reason for that. Local restaurants or even better, street food stalls are always cheaper because they don’t need to buy pricey imported ingredients or hire a chef with a specific skillset. Just follow the queue and it’ll lead you to some amazing findings, especially when traveling around Asia.

Stay on the radar

Even though the idea of backpacking is to get away from it all, you should still tell someone where are you going and what are you planning to do before leaving, for security purposes. If you’re planning to get off the beaten track and go camping, you might want to get a personal locator beacon that can track your location via GPS and send distress signals to local authorities when activated.

Learn how to bargain

street market india

Haggling is one of the most important skills for a backpacker. One of the most obvious backpacking 101 facts is that every penny counts. However, street vendors that try to overcharge you for everything certainly don’t help. If you don’t learn this skill quickly, your backpacking journey won’t be very long. For example, one of the things I learned while living in India was that haggling is a part of the culture and the vendor will always state a price higher than the actual one because they expect that the buyer will bargain. And if you don’t, you’ll probably be paying up to 7 times more than you should.

Don’t overestimate how much can you cover in x days

backpacking tired

Whether you’re planning to trek from point A to point B in X days or travel around a country in x days, be conservative with the estimates. Don’t assume best-case scenarios because most of the time, there will be at least a few things that won’t go as planned. Trying to stick to an overly optimistic plan can easily cause travel burnout and spoil your trip. After all, trying to cover a lot of ground and being exhausted all the time is not what backpacking is about.

Network as much as you can

group friends travel

Your dad’s friend’s fourth cousin lives in Singapore? Don’t be afraid to ask whether you can crash in for a few days. People living abroad are generally open to seeing someone from their native country, even if you only share a very tenuous connection. Also, while on the road, meet as many people as you can. You might meet your next backpacking buddy who you can share your costs with if you’re traveling solo. Additionally, knowing more people can help you in a lot of different ways from saving money to learning a lot about the place you’re visiting and the best things to see and do around. And talking about networking…

Don’t be afraid of hitchhiking


Hitchhiking is often scrutinized in Western cultures but the stats say that far more people are killed or injured in bus/train crashes than because of hitchhiking. Sure, it’s not easy to get in a car with a stranger who you know nothing about but the person behind the wheel doesn’t know anything about the person hitchhiking either. And most of the time, the people that actually pullover are kind strangers that want to help someone because they know how it feels like to try to hitchhike in order to save a few bucks while traveling. However, hitchhiking isn’t always possible and if you decide to choose a public local bus or train, choose the one that takes the most time. These buses are always the cheapest and this is one of the golden rules of backpacking; the slower you go, the more money you can save.

Get a job to extend your trip


Finally, when talking about backpacking 101, I have to mention getting a job on the road. A lot of backpackers manage to extend their backpacking adventure by getting part-time jobs. The most popular choices are working in hostels, bartending, working on farms, etc. If you try this, you’ll soon realize that these backpacking jobs are practically stress-free, you can start and leave at any time, and you get some free stuff in exchange (ex. Free beer, free stay, free meals, etc.) that will help you save money and extend the length of your backpacking adventure. If you want to find more opportunities about working abroad, you can sign up on websites like Workaway and have access to thousands of projects from around the world in which you can participate in exchange for free meals and/or accommodation.

A few more backpacking 101 tips

Follow the Leave no trace principles.  This concept mostly applies to backpackers camping in the outdoors, and its goal is to preserve nature while taking a trip to the wilderness. However, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t follow some of these rules and principles when traveling in an urban environment.

Make a checklist. You’ll find this very helpful as you plan your trip. Gather as much information as you can about your upcoming trip and make a checklist of things you need to get for the trip and some basic rules to follow at all times.

Don’t forget to check the weather before you go. Needless to say, this is very important because you need to know what kind of clothes and accessories to pack for your trip. Additionally, this can also directly influence your plans of visiting certain places in the country you’re traveling to.

If you’re planning to camp in the outdoors, test your gear. Learn how to set up your tent and create a shelter if necessary, adjust your backpack in a way that suits your body the most, etc.

Helpful resources for saving money when backpacking

For saving on flights, use this Qatar Airways special offer to save up to 25% on all flight bookings.

If you want to save on travel insurance and get the best deal possible, check out SafetyWing.

If you’re planning to rent a car during your trip, use this AutoEurope offer to save 20% on car rentals worldwide. Alternatively, if you want to rent an RV for your next backpacking trip, use this offer to get big discounts on all RV rentals from RV Share.

Finally, if you want to save on accommodation, use my Booking discount code and get up to 20% off on all accommodation rentals wherever you go.

How did you like this list of backpacking 101 tips for beginners? Do you think they will help you with your upcoming backpacking adventure? Do you think there are some other important backpacking 101 tips we didn’t mention in this article? Let us know in the comments!

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Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

Tuesday 22nd of October 2019

Great post! I haven't really done a "proper" backpacking trip yet, but I've done a few that I'd say come close. This is a great guide and you are totally right about the importance of networking. Be it with locals or other travelers, many of the people I met while 'almost-backpacking' were incredibly inspiring and a joy to get to know, if only for a few hours or days.

Passport Symphony

Thursday 24th of October 2019

Thanks, Kevin. I am glad you have liked it.

Christopher Mitchell

Thursday 10th of October 2019

These are all important things to remember, but I think the most important is packing light. What's the old expression - bring half the clothes and twice the money? hahah

Anyway, some great things to think about here, so thanks for putting this together!

Passport Symphony

Thursday 10th of October 2019

Thanks, Christopher. I am glad you liked it.


Wednesday 9th of October 2019

I agree with all your tips here. As a ex-backpacker myself I have used all of these.

Passport Symphony

Friday 11th of October 2019

Thanks, Anna.


Wednesday 9th of October 2019

Great list - these are definitely rules I try to live by on all sorts of trips, though I must admit I've never thought of waterproofing everything. That's something I'll have to try next time.

Emma |

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 9th of October 2019

Thanks, Emma. I am thrilled you liked it.

Yukti Agrawal

Tuesday 8th of October 2019

Thanks for sharing some wonderful tips for backpacking and yes packing light should be the first motto. Also eating local street food is another useful tip. I loved how you liked the Indian local restaurants and tried some local street food in India. Securing our documents is the most important thing for any traveler.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 9th of October 2019

Thanks, Yukti. What can I say India has some amazing cuisine.